Wednesday, March 10, 2010

10 MAR 10: Money of Waste

"You pay an annual property tax plus a monthly $14 garbage tax, WHY?" I uncovered this complaint Tuesday night, while doing Serious Spring Cleaning near my computer. Trouble is, I don't pay a property tax -- or I won't officially until my landlord gives me an itemized bill.

Your Columbus Water Works bill calls it a 14-dollar "garbage fee," as opposed to a tax. But that fee may be on the verge of going up. City officials held a second public hearing Tuesday night on raising the fee five dollars. It's only one dinner a month, you know - and these days, that dinner is becoming little more than a large fast food sandwich with fries and a soda.

The scene of Tuesday night's garbage fee hearing was Baker Middle School. That seemed like an appropriate place. A lot of debris has been removed from the neighborhood in the last couple of years - and the old Baker High School looks awfully trashy right now.

But anyway: Columbus city officials don't exactly call it a "garbage fee." They prefer to use the term "integrated waste" - and come to think of it, I can't recall any Ku Klux Klan officials demanding towns have separate landfills based on skin color.

City Manager Isaiah Hugley says Columbus garbage fees haven't gone up in five years. Well, OK - but I don't think many residents' retirement funds have gone up, either.

Columbus city budgets point out Integrated Waste is "run like a business." That area reduced spending by one million dollars last fiscal year. But expenses still exceeded garbage fees by more than $600,000 -- and I can't find any lines in the budget where money specifically was set aside for red ink.

You may remember the last time Columbus city officials held public hearings on garbage [8 Aug 08]. Two years ago, the City Manager's office supported a cut to once-a-week trash collection. You don't hear about that proposal now - so Columbus residents must be messier than we dare to admit.

Mayor Jim Wetherington didn't think much of increasing garbage fees last year [28 Jan 09]. He's apparently now convinced the economy is recovering enough to make the increase affordable. Either that, or the mayor realizes he's about to leave office and it's the City Manager's reputation on the line.

So who made the complaint I uncovered about garbage fees Tuesday night? That's a quote from a 2006 campaign flier, during Bert Coker's write-in campaign for mayor. Coker's told me he's running for school board this year - so he may define "garbage" now as the new Public Education Center.

Bert Coker's 2006 campaign flier suggested corrections officers were being paid a second income to drive Columbus garbage trucks. But city officials say the real problem in Integrated Waste involves high fuel prices -- and you'd think someone would invent a garbage truck which automatically converts trash into energy in the middle of the block.

I'm hearing nothing to indicate garbage fees will NOT go up. So in the meantime, I consider it a moral victory to get up at 7:00 a.m. on collection days to lug my bag to the curb. Putting it out earlier violates city rules - but thankfully, the 100 new police officers still haven't eliminated crime to the point that they're ticketing trash cans.

-> Poker made news in recent days from Las Vegas to Germany. We cover those items and much more at our other blog, "On the Flop!" <-

BLOG UPDATE: My guess turned out to be correct Tuesday - as Seth Brown was nominated and approved as Columbus's first Crime Prevention Director. Maybe Tracy Fox should have offered a better minister for delivering the Columbus Council invocation....

Seth Brown told reporters when he takes the Crime Prevention Director job in April, he wants to meet with "community leaders." Wasn't he before about a dozen of them Tuesday, during the Columbus Council meeting? Or is Brown planning a special potluck supper at St. Luke United Methodist Church?

Columbus Council rewarded Seth Brown's skill as a church administrator, by approving a salary at the low end of the budgeted range for Crime Prevention Director. If he wants to improve that, he can join the schedule of other city employees holding bake sales at the Government Center.

E-MAIL UPDATE: Fasten your seat belt, for a complaint about Columbus transportation....

In response to your March 7 comment about AirTran coming to Huntsville in May, and what does Huntsville have that Columbus doesn't. Answer: Airtran, and about ten other airlines that Columbus doesn't have. Our Airport Authority is useless. H**k, they haven't managed to post any Meeting Minutes since August 2009. How effective is that?? The August minutes said that United and American airlines are (were?) "very interested" in coming to Columbus. Oh Yeah? So when ARE they coming to our fair city? Columbus has to be the largest city in America that's served by only one airline! ANY competing airline that would come here with direct flights to anywhere, but Atlanta, would do great!!! But somebody at the airport needs to sell our airport and quit waiting for some airline to come here on its own! Wake up people!

We did some online checking - and Columbus does appear to be the largest one-airline city in the U.S. But look on the bright side. Moreno Valley, California has about 4,000 more people than Columbus - yet it has no airport at all.

As for last August's Airport Commission meeting: the minutes show Director Mark Oropeza was optimistic a meeting with US Airways officials in October would bring "an agreement.... on another airline coming into the airport." Maybe the airlines are haggling with each other about which one has to commit to Columbus first.

We also received "snail mail" from our anonymous Phenix City reader (although we think we know who it is)....

I was very pleased to read of the City's plans to bring back the office of Economic Development. Your efforts are not understood by all citizens. In your quest for economic development we are now under agreement or contract with

1. The Phenix City Chamber of Commerce

2. Troy University

3. The Valley Partnership

4. Downtown Redevelopment Authority

5. A private firm seeking to identify retail needs

6. Council (excursions to Prattville, Alabama etc.)

It is good to know that we are "cranking up" economic development. Furthermore the "one stop shop" is a great idea. Does this educated approach mean that should we attract prospective economic clients no other departments or agencies will be needed to provide data relating to demographics etc.?

Thanks for all you do

If that many organizations are involved in promoting Phenix City, a second Huddle House simply HAS to open there sooner or later.

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